Our Gratitude to Others

An apocryphal story tells of a man seeking enlightenment. He goes to the Himalayas and there he meditates for almost five years. When he believes he has emptied his mind of his ego, he returns to civilization. The very first time he drives a car again, he finds himself in heavy traffic. When a driver cuts him off, he bursts out swearing.  Moral: It is in the playing field of everyday life that we meet our ego. 

Perhaps you’ve heard this similar one-liner: If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your parents and report back. 

Some time ago, in a dream, my wife and I were arguing. Desperate to make my point, I grew irate as back and forth we went. Why couldn’t she understand? She was coming up with self-serving, illogical arguments to defend her behavior. 

When I awoke I realized that what upset me in the dream was the very thing I was doing in real life. My wife in the dream was a mirror reflecting my own self-serving rationalizations for my own bad behavior. I was the pot calling the kettle black. Talk about an attention getting dream—this dream captured mine. 

Where would the meditator be without the traffic? Where would we be without our parents? Where would I be without my wife? 

Many Native American tribes assigned a member the role of Sacred Clown. The Sacred Clown was to intentionally mess with people, disrupt their day, get them to react, so they had a chance to see their blind spots. 

Every day we are tricked by our thinking; we blame others and circumstances for our feelings. But the very instant we blame we have an opportunity to see what is going on in our own mind. Without others we would never have a chance to choose again. 

You may have noticed that while experiencing an upsetting dream, part of your mind realizes you are dreaming and wakes you up. Is the same not true in our waking life, too? If we are holding on to a bad line of thinking and having a bad day, can we not “wake-up” and choose again? We do not have to keep going down the same road. 

In his book Bonds That Make Us Free, Dr. Terry Warner writes: 

We do not control the timing of a change of heart. We make ourselves available for it by faithfully doing the right things for the right reasons; that much does lie within our control. But just when and how a change of heart will come, we cannot force. It’s like physical healing: our spirits, like our bodies, seem to know how to heal themselves when the obstacles to healing are removed. Our part– the part in which deliberation, planning, willpower, and persistence play their roles—consists of removing the obstacles. 

We do not control a change of heart but we do decide to make ourselves available for one. The Love of God does the rest. In truth, every human being has the greatest gift all—an unbreakable connection to the Love of God. If we bemoan our lack of what we think we need, we may live in a world of resentment. But our resentments melt away and transmute to feelings of gratitude as we realize this love connection. 

We can’t help but live in the results of the way we relate to the world. Through the course of everyday life others reveal to us how much attention we are paying to our dysfunctional thinking. We don’t have to think more positive thoughts; we just have to stop processing our negative thoughts. Our ego is only as strong as the attention we give it. And valuing our ego is the biggest barrier to a change of heart. 

May we all be grateful for those we love and for those we find difficult. Every moment of every day is another chance to make ourselves available for a change of heart.

8 Responses to Our Gratitude to Others

  1. Steve M Nash says:

    Great piece about gratitude for others, Barry, and for the thinking that they stir in us. Too often we then want to blame them for our anger/fear/anxiety etc. but in truth the other person (I like to think of them as ‘the messenger’) is really bringing us a gift – a gift to let us see more deeply inside of ourselves.

    It’s funny how in dreams – where ALL of the characters that appear come from our own thinking and come from our own mind – its easier to see how we are ALL of the characters that appear in our dream. But in reality we like to stick to the idea that all characters are separate, that I am me and you are you and so I think my anger because of your behaviour has nothing to do with me. Truth is, as in dreams, we’re ALL the characters in real life too. (Well, that’s how I see things, anyway… :) )

    Thanks, Barry, enjoyed your piece! (That I found from a Facebook group we’re both a part of.)

    Ps I LOVED reading that book by C Terry Warner, The Bonds That Make Us Free, a few years ago. There was some powerful wisdom in there that really spoke to me. I must re-read it soon!

    • Barry Brownstein says:

      Beautifully expressed, Steve. Thank you too for the kind words. Yes, Bonds That Make Us Free is a great book.

      I would modify what you said slightly. Yes, we are not separate from anyone but others make their own choices on the worldly level. The interpretations we assign to their behavior are all ours. Sort of like we are appearing in each other’s dreams to help in the process of waking up to reality.

      • Eric says:

        Thanks Barry for another lovely piece of writing that goes to the heart and shows again the truth of our experience. I liked Steve’s comment that “all the characters come from our thinking” – that kind of says it all in a different way too.

  2. carlos fernandez malaspina says:

    professor : thank you for the post. I decided to make myself available for a change of heart.

  3. Melanee says:

    I grew up very near a Trappist Monastery, and often visited the monks as a teen, asking them question after question, and graciously enjoying the offering of their homemade bread and honey as we discussed the Bible and their version of the Trinity.

    These men were wonderful and service oriented. They also had a sense of calm and peace about them that intrigued me. I wanted to stay in their guest room, but only men were allowed, and so I’d go home to my family of eight adopted children and two exceptionally stressed-out parents, and wonder about the very thing you’re speaking about. About why it is that those we consider wise are often single males who have lots of time to be alone and contemplate life with less brushing up against the temporal stuff the rest of us dealt with regularly.

    This topic of what I see as the benefit and necessity of the temporal realm, is one I’ve pondered and grappled with for many years. I tend to feel quite at home in the formless, spiritual world, but since I have a body and live on an earth, I’ve had to buttress up against life and seek to understand the purpose of the form.

    What I see is that everyday life, nature, physical pain, awkwardness, hunger, and discomfort, are given as a gift to remind us and point us back to the necessity of God for our very breath.

    I once wrote a haiku that reminds me of your dream.

    They who drive me mad
    these gurus, hold a mirror
    up so I see me.

    :) Ah, there are so many rich things to discuss in this post, but I’ll leave it here for now! Love the beauty of your heart which is so clear in your writing, Barry! I so appreciate you!

    • Barry Brownstein says:

      Thanks for the generous words and the beautiful insights, Melanee. Thanks too for your haiku which I will quote for my Monday morning Inner-Work Facebook update.

      This from an older blog post of mine:

      Every day we encounter people who have lost their memory of Wholeness. They are difficult to be with. Every day we lose our memory of Wholeness, and we are difficult to be with.

      Every day we encounter others who are loyal and remember for us. Those who remember may be close to us or they may be strangers who share a kind word or a friendly smile.

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